The parents of an eighth-grader say they’re filing a claim against the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District this week, arguing district officials failed to protect their son from repeated bullying and assaults that ultimately landed him in the hospital.
Claims are state-required precursors to lawsuits. If officials reject the allegations, the district could be sued as early as December, according to an attorney representing the middle-schooler’s family.
“We’re going to be holding the school district and all the players involved accountable,” said attorney Mark Haushalter.
Last fall, some classmates of a 13-year-old at Palos Verdes Intermediate School began bullying him, Haushalter said. Then, this spring, the bullying escalated: the student was attacked twice, in April and May. Those attacks, one of which was captured on video, left the boy physically and emotionally scarred, the boy’s father said.
The school district, in a statement, did not directly address specific questions about the allegations or the legal claim. Instead, it said, “student safety is a top priority for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.”
“With regard to these allegations,” the statement continued, “the school site administration and staff appropriately took immediate action to ensure the safety of the students involved and the campus as a whole.”
The father said he doesn’t know why his son was bullied. But, Haushalter added, during one of the physical attacks, the boy tried to fight back – resulting in him getting suspended along with two other boys. Those boys, the lawyer said, were the aggressors and are now back at school.
The boy’s father began homeschooling him and in June, the family filed a claim against the school district.
By law, a public agency has up to 60 days to investigate a claim. If the investigation’s conclusions support the claim, the agency will look to reach a legal settlement; otherwise, the agency will reject the claim – giving those who filed it two months to sue.
The school district rejected the family’s claim within five weeks, said Thomas Ryu, the family’s other attorney.
“There was no grounds, they just flat rejected it,” Ryu said. “It was almost like a boilerplate denial. But it’s nothing that we did not expect from the (school district) board.”
After the rejection, the family and its lawyers worked on filing a lawsuit. But during that time, the eighth-grader missed his friends and eventually went back to school — and, his father said, was promptly attacked again.
On Oct. 2, he was assaulted in a school restroom, the father said. His head was smashed against a sink, causing a concussion and a deep gash on his forehead. He was treated at a local hospital.
The family and their lawyers decided to update and refile their claim against the district, which they say will happen Thursday, Oct. 11.
The boy, meanwhile, sees a neurologist and receives psychological counseling – and is being home-schooled again.
“We keep him going to see different doctors and listening to their instructions,” The father said about his son. “I think we need to stay away – home school and then change to a different school for sure, because I’m really, really worried about his safety.”
Haushalter, this week, accused the school district of shirking its responsibility to keep students safe.
“They’ve completely failed to provide adequate protection for (the student) and allowed him to be terrorized by other students,” he said. “We’re seeing words from the school (district), but no effective actions to protect their students.”
The father, too, has taken a defiant stance:
“We need to fight back,” he said.